13 June 2012

"Pirates": SpringerImages

Lately we hear a lot about cases where corporations or greedy individuals misuse freely licensed software or content, such a case is related in a special report in Signpost, Wikipedia's community-written and community-edited newspaper: Springer's misappropriation of Wikimedia content "the tip of the iceberg".

SpringerImages, a website providing scientific images and part of the Springer global publishing company was caught by a professor publishing and selling Creative Commons licensed materials with no proper attribution. After being contacted and some talks with the professor, the publishing company admits there may be some flaws but call the accusations "blatantly false" and "reputation damaging".

After the Signpost's article, Springer published another response, this time they acknowledge "defects" and take measures like "we have manually stopped display of *all* images with MediaWiki or Wikipedia in the caption. These images will not be displayed again until we can reliably differentiate among those that have non-commercial restrictions."

The article notes how damaging for Free culture such abusers are, one notable example being the German Federal Archives, which donated 100.000 pictures to Wikipedia in 2008 and then stopped contributions after seeing mass-scale abuse of their donated content (like images with watermarks cropped and then sold on eBay as original)

In as interesting piece, read it all at Signpost.


Yesterday I passingly mentioned on a post that stats show the Fedora user base is shrinking (looking back, I probably should have said "seems to be shrinking"), which made for a later conversation with someone genuinely asking for the numbers, someone else challenging my conclusion and someone else not taking a solid stance either way.

First, I want to make it even clearer, I was not talking about contributors or project health, which can be measured with completely different metrics, but just about the users base, which was relevant in the context of my post (users will have to inflict UEFI with Secure Boot).

Second, there is no absolute way to count the user base for a Linux distro, you can't do it the Windows way by counting sold licenses or pre-installed computers (well, neither that is accurate, not counting the unlicensed installs), nor you can use web usage statistics (not every computer is online, Linux desktop market share is too small and easily affected by rounding errors), so the best way our community was able to come with was counting package updated via yum (the wiki statistics page has explanations about the methodology and its flaws).

Based on the plain, raw, data in the page I made a simple chart and then added a few annotations on top, to have a little context, is easier to read this way

fedora users base

Some observations:

  • There was an absolute peak with Fedora 8, which is possibly attributed by the statistics page to a massive Amazon EC2 presence with images provided by various entities/companies. Community-wise, the distro was then at a Maximum, with everything opening left and right, people being enthusiastic. Is the time you will see past and present contributors remembering as "good old times".
  • Another, much smaller, peak happened with Fedora 14, which can also be attributed to the Amazon EC2 presence.
  • The chart shows a big dive with Fedora 15, the numbers where still have time to increase but not much, it will be EOL-ed in a few weeks.
  • Fedora 16 is mid-life, until December when it will reach End Of Life, more installs will happen, is too early to tell if it will surpass F15 or not, we'll talk about that in half a year.
  • Of course Fedora 17 is near the bottom, is a fresh release with statistics for after only one week, so far it shows, according with the statistics page, more yum connections and less direct downloads compared with the previous release.

Any more disclaimers needed?

12 June 2012


A big flame does not end suddenly, it continues with echoes and as echoes go further away, the more ridiculous they get. You can learn, for example, why do Fedora needs signed binaries for UEFI with Secure Boot: because is too hard for users to enter BIOS and change a setting there.

I encountered myself Linux users who didn't entered BIOS before but they need it for the install to change boot order. In such cases I google myself a nice tutorial and point to that. If they are not able or not willing to follow such simple instructions, then I recommend them to continue using Windows, pay for a specialist to solve their problems or take a computing course. And I don't think I am wrong in doing that, by definition, Fedora user base is defined by voluntary Linux consumers who are computer-friendly and likely collaborators. If they are unable of doing such a little work or unwilling to learn such a simple thing, they will be more pain than useful contributors.

There is this illusionary dream in the Fedora community to gain massive market share (the stats show we are shrinking) by attracting an audience of "girl scouts" type of users, for which we removed usability, lose features day by day and may reduce the freedom in the near future.

From the beginning, being a Free software user required a balance between freedom and convenience, and every of the people involved has his own threshold, but Fedora as a project has a stated mission "to lead the advancement of free and open source software and content as a collaborative community" and "freedom over convenience" was part of our marketing message since the four foundations were defined and even before that.

Back to anecdotes and personal experience, time teaches me is not worthy to invest in people who are not willing or not able to learn: you teach them at first, some will learn and grow into valuable contributors, some will refuse and suffocate you with babysitting requests. Filter ones from the others and your life and work will improve.

07 June 2012

Luana wallpapers

When everything looks doom and gloom in the Free Software world is time to remember there is life beyond it, like the last week-end when I had the chance to explore a magic land full of stories and legend, but also beautiful sceneries. I returned from there with a lot of pictures to send later for Wiki Loves Monuments (I am busy these days making the contest work, with sponsors, trademarks and such), but also with beautiful images to share as Free wallpapers. Enjoy.


Less freedom is no freedom

I wanted to write about the Linux boot and UEFI from a while now, but I figured out is better to learn first more about the issue and take a deep breath before taking a position. In the meantime, many faces of the debate were talked in various places, so I think I have a better grasp.

From the beginning, when people started talking about Secure Boot some warned about the treat to Free Software, but they were pretty much dismissed by many as a bunch of hippies following the smelly RMS, we'll surely find a way around when will get to it. Now, after mjg wrote a long technical pieces about the struggles of making Fedora boot on UEFI with Secure Boot enabled, we can the alarmists were right and Microsoft managed to give a fatal blow to Free Software on the desktop with the help of many hardware manufacturers.

The problem is Free Software won't be able to co-exist with Windows and keep its freedom, people will have to make the choice: break-up totally with Windows (really hard in the computing landscape of today) or give away one of the fundamental freedoms granted by GPL (modify and distribute the software). Sure, this is not a problem in the server world, where you can safely turn Secure Boot off and live happily (boot malware does not affect Linux) as this is not a problem in the enterprise desktop in the places where the game is Linux-only. It is a problem in the hobbyist space, where people play with different stuff all the time and is a problem with adoption, when new potential users will have their computers locked to Windows. It is also not a Linux problem, is a Free Software problem, if you give away freedoms, you can still run Linux.

I can see how people wanting to run Linux and Windows 8 (let aside me not understanding why anyone would want to use Windows 8, it's a turd, from the same category with GNOME Shell, a tabled interface shoehorned into a desktop) will enter BIOS(UEFI) at every boot and change the Secure Boot flag according with the OS they are going to start (time wasting and annoying). And you will have to turn it off, don't expect things like drivers or kernel modules from RPM fusion or similar sources to receive certificates, after all they distribute software with legal restrictions in the US, the home of the certification authority.

So short term disable Secure Boot, keep Windows 7 if you have to dual boot, put your own keys inside BIOS(UEFI), pay, there seem to be some solutions. How about long term? I expect "pirates" will crack Windows 8 anyway and make it boot without Secure Boot. Then, in one or two releases Microsoft will change the logo specifications, Secure Boot will be mandatory with no BIOS option to turn it off - we must defend ourselves from evil pirates and malware writers and over 90% of the computers, "designed for Windows", will be unable to run a Free Software operating system (Linux desktop is busy chasing windmills with user interface experiments, so it won't gain significant market share).

My prevision is even more grim: by that time Windows will move to allowing installs only from the "app store" and Free Software applications will be out (remember, apps like Firefox, LibreOffice or even GIMP have the bulk of the users on Windows). By that time Free Software will be dead and buried, wanting a Microsoft alternative we will have the choice of Google Chrome with everything in the "cloud".

Quite negative so far, right? There should be a solution I see... yes, I think the Free Software world should refuse Microsoft's proposal for Secure Boot. Some FOSS developers argue having a secure boot process can be a good thing, while they may be right, here is not the case, Microsoft proposal is broken by design, we should not endorse it, join the opposition and get the anti-trust regulators to make something, all while teaching people how to change BIOS settings and generate and install own keys. I don't see any important player endorsing the FSF petition: Fedora is not there, Red Hat is not there, Debian is not there, Canonical is not there, Ubuntu is not there, Mint is not there... not any distro is there. And this is a bad thing.